‘The drum was supposed to sacrifice blood’: the rise of the dark Nordic people Music

YesIn 2002, hidden in the attic of a studio on the magnificent Norwegian coast, Einar Selvik had a vision. He would create an album trilogy based on the 24 runes of Elder Futhark, the oldest runic alphabet in the world. The epiphany of multi-instrumentalists has now begun one of the world’s liveliest underground scenes.

Inviting vocalists Lindy-Fay Hella and Gaahla, with whom Selvik played in the black metal band Gorgoroth, he created the band Wardruna and the first part of the trilogy arrived in 2009. It was called Runaljod: Gap Var Ginnunga (The sound of runes: The omission was huge) and should is seven years of researching, writing and recording. Each song told the story of Nordic culture and tradition, through dark and ambient folk, played on ancient string and horn instruments, as well as on animal skin drums.

The connection with nature is palpable: the melodies are covered with the sounds of water gurgling, howling wind and crackling fire. Recording Laukra, named after the water rune, Selvik uttered vocals as he stood submerged in the river. Meanwhile, recordings of the band’s new album, Kvitravn (White Raven), took place in the woods and on the mounds.

“You can almost call it recording methods or composing methods, where I’m the instrument and the themes are the composer,” says the frontman, who describes himself as an animist-believer that all objects and living beings possess their own spiritual essence. “It subtly promotes this idea that nature is something sacred. Something we are a part of, not rulers. “

His band’s music is becoming increasingly popular. The music press began to wake up in 2013 with the arrival of Runaljod: Yggdrasil (named after the sacred tree), while Kvitravn reached the top 50 in the UK earlier this month. But Wardruna already had a lot of followers, igniting a fascination with Nordic culture in 2013, when they sold out London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on their first British show.

It is no surprise that this music came from the frozen north. Ever since Norwegian bands including Mayhem, Emperor and Gorgoroth pioneered black metal in the early 1990s, sharp, cold sound scenes have been part of the diet there. Selvik quickly removes any connection to the metal, but the same mood still seeps through Wardrun’s music.

Dark mood … Wardrun. Photo: Kim Öhrling

Soon, acts like Heilung, Forndom, and Danheim were created for them, each using a dark Nordic folk template that Selvik was a pioneer of. But it was the success of the History Channel drama Vikings that brought the scene into mainstream culture, far beyond the consciousness of folk and metal lovers. Selvik contributed to the soundtrack of the show from the beginning of the second season in 2014 and appeared as an actor in the show, while later episodes included music by Heilung and Danheim. This has undoubtedly raised Wardrun’s profile, but Selvik wants it not to define the band. “I never use the word Viking in the way I talk about my music,” he says. “The desire was never to recreate music from any particular time period.”

Mainstream appeal ... TV saga Vikings.
Mainstream appeal … TV saga Vikings. Photo: History Channel / Everett Collection / Rex

Years of painstaking research and study have made Selvik an expert in Nordic tradition and ancient music. His work is often cited by leading academics in Nordic studies and he has lectured at Oxford University – but with Wardrun he has created something that seems transcendent. “I told Einar I didn’t know anything about runes, so maybe I wasn’t the right person to join,” singer Wardrune Hella says. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter – it’s your energy I want in music.’ “

“There’s something in the folk spirit – it’s primal, honest, rude,” adds Amalie Bruun, Danish single-singer singer of the ambient black-metal project Myrkur, who turned to Danish sagas while recording her 2020 album, Folkesange (Darkness). “You can read all these sagas and they give you this echo from within. It’s like a memory you didn’t know you had. ”

If Wardruna are the ancestors of the Nordic regiment, then the Heilung trio are teenagers on the scene. The band – made up of leader and vocalist Kai Uwe Faust, horn vocalist Maria Franz and producer Christopher Juul – have become a phenomenon for their exciting live shows, evoking secret rituals with up to 22 people on stage, waving spears and shields and drumming on human bones. Their debut performance, at Castlefest in the Netherlands in 2017, was viewed over five million times on YouTube. Given the title Lifa or Life, the film has earned thousands of comments which speaks to the emotional connection to the music.

“Our goal is to change your conscious state of mind,” Franz says. “It’s a turbulent journey: you’ll feel scared and hurt, but when you get to the end, you should feel great relief.” Juul adds: “The first time we played in Russia, these Siberian shamans appeared in full gear, drumming along with us. They just got it. “How did they react? “We cried.”

Being crowded at a Heilung gig is intense – it seems a bit like filling the front rows in the battle for Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings. But it is also like some kind of shamanic healing ceremony. Through the haze of smoke, the drums beat in a rhythm that triggers a trance through chanting and singing in the throat. Why use human bones? “It has a ritual touch,” Faust says, adding that the goal is not to shock, but to show respect for a tradition that has existed for thousands of years. “In Tibetan ritual music you have a drum made of two skull caps, you have a flute made of human femur. In Africa, a lot of instruments are made of human skin. It is important for people from older cultures to have good connections with their ancestors. “

“Bones attract a lot of attention,” says Juul, “but we also play with human blood. Our drum in the center of the stage is called Blod, which means ‘blood’. It’s stained with the blood of the three of us. ”

“We have a good friend who is a nurse and she helped us professionally with getting some out,” Franz adds. “There is a lot of energy in the blood. We were unknown when Kai came and said the drum needed a blood sacrifice. But painting something and seeing your own DNA was a very spiritual experience. “

Closing his Runic trilogy with Runaljoda: The 2016 Ragnarok, named after the Nordic term for a series of natural disasters as well as the deaths of the gods, Selvik was able to delve deeper into the relationship between humans and nature Kvitravn on Wardrune’s new album. At the moment, he says, people long for a connection with the environment, either with nature or tradition, although the album bypasses the “romantic idea” that everything was better at the time. “It’s about taking something old and creating something new.” This is a feeling repeated by Juul, who points out that Heilung’s mission is to create an “enhanced history”.

“What we’re doing here is trying to take history, put it in an amp and see what happens,” he explains. “We are not trying to draw a line on what is happening in the world today. People can use this knowledge as they wish. It is not up to us to dictate what we will do with it. ”

In the end, Selvik believes Wardrun’s music is intuitive. “Some of the topics we sing about go so far back, they’re in our DNA,” he says. “The whole culture is shaped by the environment. My music wraps up this Nordic, but it’s basically timeless. Its universal. That’s why he speaks to people around the world. “

• Kvitravn Wardrune is now coming out on Sony Music / Columbia Records / MFN / By Norse Music. Folksange by Myrkur is available on Relapse Records. Heilung’s catalog is available at Seasons of Mist.